A/N: This story was written for the rare_pair summer wishlist at LJ. It is set in the same universe as my previous story, Stunned, but it can be read independently. And it contained a time-line error. Thank heaven for reviewers. I've tried to fix it.
In times of war, one loses friends. One is prepared, in an unprepared way.
Sirius. A dreadful shock. Even more since she was standing, or rather, tottering on the side-line at the time. Still. One of the surprising things was that it didn't happen before. De mortibus nil nisi bene, but one can judge one's former students analytically. Never one for safe living, Sirius. Be that as it may, for weeks, she winces when Animagi are mentioned.
Alastor. His safety-awareness was a by-word. A joke. It couldn't happen to him. Another scar, another limb even. Yes. But this. So many shared memories. So many shared drinks. For weeks, she winces when pouring a Single Malt.
Yet life goes on. That's more than a platitude. It's a painful fact. "Life will never be the same," they said. But it is. Daily life goes on, and however much she misses Alastor, he was not a part of daily life. Hours, days go by without being reminded of him. Therefore, without thinking of him.
But this is different. One loses a friend who was part of daily life. Every hour brings a memory. It's like having a bruise on the soul. A bruise that is regularly kicked. She winces. Incessantly.
Minerva McGonagall broke the seal on the last letter in her in-tray. She quickly perused it. Molly Weasley's ecstatic comments on Bill's wedding. What it lacked in punctuation and coherence it more than made up in exclamation marks.
She glanced at the photograph Molly had included. Fleur was predictably stunning. Bill had that look of blissful happiness that made men resemble sheep. Molly, Arthur, and various assorted Weasleys smiled maniacally and waved. Ginny glared resentfully at the frills on her bridesmaid's dress. Muriel's face made Minerva wish that someone, somewhere, had hurried up inventing pictures that talked as well as moved.
Fred and George looked impishly and could, at last, be identified because of the ear. Or rather the lack thereof.
Molly had raved and ranted and made all sorts of accusations. Understandably. Even the most level-headed of mothers would dislike the wizard who cut off her son's ear. When Molly had accused Severus of secretly desiring his male students and of taking revenge on George because he "was a wholesome boy who wouldn't look twice at the greasy git" she had drawn breath, ready to defend him, as she had done before. Then she had remembered. And winced.
It had at least saved her Molly's usual round of clichés. Blind faith in Albus, understandable after such a close, close collaboration. And so difficult to forget about work, isn't it, dear, when there's no home life to return to. No one doubts your devotion to your students, such a wonderful compensation… Yet a mother's heart … a mother's instinct ... Well, it's not exactly something you can explain to people who have no children of their own, but a mother's instinct … That had been at the base of every foolish accusation Molly had made over the years.
Sometimes, over a bottle of Burgundy, Severus had thanked her for standing up for him. And told her she shouldn't have; of course he did. She had pointed out that animosity in the Order endangered their work; that Molly was a fool indeed, but that it was no reason to let her turn into a slanderous fool. Who, moreover, could harm Hogwarts's reputation. And that friends did stand up for each other. At that, Severus drained his glass with a speed the Burgundy didn't deserve.
The wedding invitation had been accompanied by a note pointing out that it would do Minerva all the good in the world to get among other people once more; that it wouldn't do to dwell on the past; that Albus would have wanted her to attend (but then, she had gone against his wishes often enough); that the company of friends was so vital to someone who had to lead the, let's face it, dear, somewhat restricted life of an unmarried teacher. Which was a very admirable thing to be, let that be clear! She, Molly, couldn't do it for all the tea in China.
Minerva had been pleased with that note. It had given her the first real, long laugh of that summer. Together with Poppy who, for the past twenty-seven years, had joyfully shared her pitiful, restricted spinster's life. And she had sent a handsome gift. Poppy would enjoy this letter. So would …
There was still work to do. She checked the in-tray. It really was empty. She looked under it, checked her desk, then the floor, feeling faintly ridiculous while doing so. No other letter. Augusta Longbottom really hadn't written this year. The letter she had send Augusta on Neville's choice of N.E.W.T.'s and Augusta's prejudices, with some fondly recalled and carefully phrased memories on their own N.E.W.T.'s year and their respective results in Charms, seemed to have done the trick. So that was one bet she'd won! Gryffindor leads! A brief spurt of glee, replaced by a piercing sense of reality.
She picked up the last letter. Muggle writing paper.
And so I say, if Roderick wants to take this Charming Class, not that he needs it, he always was the most charming boy and I don't see why we normal folks shouldn't be able to judge that, then he should be allowed to take it. Regardless of those GCSE's or Owls or Frogs or whatever you call them. In fact, you should be glad that he even wants to take it.
So I expect to hear that he will be admitted.
Jane Mainwaring (Mother of Roderick Mainwaring)
Professor McGonagall smiled as she put the letter on the 'wine' pile.
There was no 'wine' pile, just an empty space on her desk. She transferred the paper to 'answered'. The 'wine' pile was history. Ancient, ongoing history.
She picked up the Muggle parent's letter again. An amusing request was an amusing request, regardless of the number of people around to enjoy it. She wished she could read it to Poppy. But parents' letters were confidential, restricted to the Headmaster, the Deputy and the Heads of House. So she couldn't share the funny bits or gossip over them, not anymore.
Last year …
"I'm tempted to grant this one," she had said, before reading the letter out loud.
"And he only has to touch a cauldron to achieve magic. Why, he managed to get egg on four kitchen walls and the ceiling, just by putting it in boiling water."
"He's obviously a natural. Perhaps you should reconsider him for your N.E.W.T.'s class."
Minerva grinned. Snape checked the look in her eyes and, reassured, grinned back.
"Even in the Muggle world 'couldn't boil an egg' is verging on the negative. And that fool should be burnt with his own cauldron and buried with a wand through his heart. In fact, if I could be certain that he'd be the only casualty, I'd be glad to have him in my N.E.W.T.'s class. I'd be doing the wizarding world a service. Merlins are awarded for less."
Snape had poured Minerva another glass, and then filled his own.
"Here, have a look at this one," she had said. "It seems we have the new Greatest Seer of All Times in our midst. Her parents claim that Sybill is too earth-bound to realize her potential, which is why the poor girl failed her O.W.L."
"Rejected by Sybill? Could anyone wish for a better recommendation?" And they had laughed and raised their glasses to each other.
For one brief moment, she allowed herself her memories of their friendship. Truth be told I miss you, she thought. Truth be told I'm lying. I can't even miss you properly. Not after what you did.
Tomorrow, she would meet with the new Headmaster. She would inform him of the time schedules for the N.E.W.T. students. She would briefly summarize the parents' requests and her answers. She would not avoid his eyes. He would not avoid Albus' portrait; it was not like him to do so. When you see his face, I hope it gives you hell, she thought. But she couldn't be sure, not even of that.